George Walford: Editorial Notes (26)

In IC27 we shall be reprinting another article by HAROLD WALSBY, entitled: ‘What is the Answer?.’ Written in 1951 it draws attention to a problem facing purist ‘socialists’: Have their numbers kept pace with the increase in world population?

THE LETTER in this issue from Austin Meredith takes off from the suggestion, made in IC24, that the word “Anarchism” gives a misleading impression of the movement using it as a name. We can now offer support for this suggestion from an anarchist source. This comes from an article by Colin Millen entitled “Anarchy is Order”:

one or two comments need… to be made about the word “Anarchy” itself for it is obvious from the way most people react… that this is a term which is not fully understood. Just mention the word to most people from “conventional” backgrounds and either they will look disturbed and afraid, as visions of chaos and disorder maybe accompanied by violence are conjured up in their minds or they will laugh… (In ‘Freedom / a Hundred Years, Centenary Issue of the Oldest Surviving Anarchist Magazine.’ London, Freedom Press, 1986).

ANOTHER article in the same journal gives this on another subject:

In the old days the boss stood over you with a whip and beat you if you didn’t work hard enough. Then they invented piecework; the boss gives you the whip, he goes home and you beat yourself to death. (Quoted by Larry Law in “Anarchisation of Capitalism”).

S.I. INDICATES that all advanced countries possess substantially the same ideological structure. This sometimes appears to be disproved by wide differences in behaviour, for example the Russian tendency to inflict psychiatric treatment upon dissidents, something, it is often thought, not done in the West. The January 87 number of THE ETHICAL RECORD, journal of the South Place Ethical Society, reviews a book by S. Bok: ‘Secrets – On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation’ (Oxford University Press, 1986):

Bok outlines how the Establishment can retaliate against whistleblowers. “Psychiatric referral has become institutionalised in [American] government service,” according to Bok, and outspoken civil servants are often made to undergo psychiatric examinations of their “fitness for duty.” (p. 19)

WE FIND ourselves less sympathetic towards another statement, by a different writer, in the same issue of ER:

Freedom and justice are possible, but not under individualistic capitalism or any other system which allows class divisions. (p. 20).

Since those advocating a classless society are in the minority that suggests an attempt to use ‘freedom’ as an excuse for depriving the majority of a freedom they value. (ER is not, of course, bound to agreement with everything lt prints).

As attempts to suppress illegal drugs have become more vigorous so the number of addicts has increased, and it is not difficult to see why. Suppression produces scarcity, keeping prices up, and it creates drama; drugs are news. The media provide free publicity and even the schools help by keeping the children informed. Under these conditions the laziest pusher can hardly help making big profits. A pound of heroin bought wholesale in Nigeria for £250 is worth £50,000 in Britain (Sunday Times, 26 Oct 86). Is it any wonder the business flourishes?

Much of the damage comes less from the drugs themselves than from their being driven underground. This forces the use of dirty needles, transmitting herpes, hepatitis and AIDS. It raises prices, forcing addicts to steal. Worst of all, by making illegal dealing hugely profitable it creates a drive to make new addicts.

We in Britain have known the same set-up, in a far milder version, at least twice in recent times. Remember how the black market flourished while goods were scarce during the war? Remember how well the street bookies were doing while off-course betting was illegal? And is there nothing to be learnt from the American experiment with Prohibition? It was while alcohol was banned that it produced its worst consequences, including poisoning by sub-standard liquor and the establishment of organized crime on a scale not known before.

It is probably impossible to put an end to the harmful use of addictive drugs without controls not acceptable in a democracy. But do we have to go on investing them with the glamour of the forbidden while vigorously publicising them and making it immensely profitable to deal in them? If spinach were treated in that way the young would go for it.

Addictive drugs are not a recent invention. For centuries they have been part of the culture of large areas in Asia and Africa, and through the nineteenth century they were on open sale in Britain and America without doing enough harm to cause panics like those of today. The evidence suggests that so long as they remain a normal part of life, unremarked, undramatized, unadvertised, they remain also one of the normal risks of life. It is when they are promoted that the widespread destruction begins, and they are being promoted now because it is immensely profitable to do so. By forbidding the uncontrolled use of heroin, coke, crack, pot and the rest the authorities have produced spreading addiction. In trying to enforce the ban they have got themselves into a position where it beomes difficult to see how thay can win; every success in restricting supplies puts the price up and attracts more supplies.

It is beginning to look as though the best way to limit the damage done by these drugs would be to legalise the horrible things. That would take most of the profit out of the trade, freeing young people from the pushers.

from Ideological Commentary 26, March 1987.